Sir Cecil Beaton
The Master of Style Dressed Streisand
in “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever”
Sir Cecil Beaton won two Academy Awards for his costumes and set design in My Fair Lady. He also won an Academy Award for his costumes in Gigi. The gowns he designed and executed for Barbra Streisand in the flashback scenes of On A Clear Day are spectacular—she's never looked more beautiful in a film.
Below: One of Streisand's beautiful gowns in On A Clear Day, and Beaton's costume rendering for the gown.
Streisand has said of Beaton, “When I started, in the '60s, the beauty symbols were young girls like Sandra Dee. Cute blonds, with little turned-up noses. And a lot of people, including my mother, didn't think I'd ever be a movie star. And it was quite a thing for me, all of a sudden, to have Cecil Beaton say he thought I was one of the most beautiful women in the world. It was great. I mean, he liked the bump in my nose.”
Photo, above: A costume test photograph of this Beaton ensemble for CLEAR DAY — from the collection of Doug Major.
Beaton had good things to say about his work with Barbra:
By any standards, Miss Streisand is extraordinary. The camera is never indifferent to her, in a good photographer's hands. Her face alone or her personality alone, could fascinate. Together, they also captivate, in a positive sense. My compliment to the lady is that the more she is photographed, the more she ought to be photographed...
More from Beaton:
The public sees her as very contemporary, but I think her soul is old-fashioned, and in all honesty, she was far more likeable, more at ease, in the old English sequences of the picture than as the neurotic college student in those dreadful mini-skirt creations!
Interviewed by Boze Hadleigh, Beaton continued to praise Streisand:
Barbra is one of two kinds of, as you would now say, superstars. The two types are: the coolly detached and the fanatically involved. Barbra was the latter. The former type is typified by Audrey Hepburn. Both women are very different, yet they're both regal; that came through in the clothes I designed for them.
I recall that one of the reviewers found Streisand's performance as an English aristocrat reminiscent of vintage Joan Greenwood. I enjoyed reading that, because both women display a quality of cunning refinement. Barbra did an English accent to perfection ... It is a pity she doesn't do more period material. She is an ideal mannequin and compelling in elegant costumes. Her face is a painting from several historical eras. Barbra as and Englishwoman, an Egyptian, or a Ming empress would be unforgettable.
When asked about photographing Streisand, Beaton told Hadleigh, “She reminded me of Edith Sitwell ... Sitwell and Streisand—both were very willing to experiment, even willing to compromise. Classically beautiful women are seldom willing to experiment. They are less evolved, because the mirror and the man tells them they've reached a state of perfection, never mind that it's subjective and entirely physical.”
“She made me feel very proud and honored when she told me how excited she was to have got me,” Beaton told Movie News in 1970. “Our feeling was mutual and we worked well together. It augurs well for the picture, and I feel certain On A Clear Day You Can See Forever will be her biggest success yet.”
In his private diaries (now published as The Unexpurgated Beaton) Cecil Beaton expressed disappointment that some of his exquisite gowns were cut from the final film. “Now I see the film and see the appalling waste due to the fact that no one had prepared a proper script,” he wrote. “One whole ballroom sequence with B.S. in dark red satin, and all the others in specious stoned velvets, has been cut. B.S’s best dress cut, many scenes cut, and the laying down of cobbles in Lansdowne Crescent (Brighton) and the hedges especially built, all unnecessary, all cut. If Alan Lerner had delivered a carefully considered script, many hundreds of thousands of dollars would have been saved … It may be said that I was well paid for the job and that is all I should worry about. But that isn’t the whole story. I really sweated to see that things were perfect, and that is the only way I can work. But if another job arrives along that I don’t really believe in, will I remember the lesson of On a Clear Day? I rather doubt it.”
Below: The ballroom scene, cut, with a dark red satin gown:
Below: Another Beaton costume (and a water color rendering of it). This scene was also cut from On A Clear Day:
Barbra's Sexy Turban Look
Streisand's most striking look for On A Clear Day was, no doubt, her white gown and turban for the Royal Pavillion scenes.
Beaton explained on how the elegant and exotic look came about:
It was inspired — and both our ideas, really — to wrap the Streisand features in a glorious white turban, to further accent her strong features. At the same time, she was totally feminine, beguiling, shamelessly sexual. In my designs, her look was soft, almost maternal, but very beautiful, as in a Raphael painting. I tried to stress the lushness of the fabrics, the intricate designs and motifs, in short, the physical if not spiritual splendor of the period we were dealing with. On a less gifted actress and model, on almost any American actress I can think of, this would have been wasted and somewhat ludicrous. Barbra has a less monotonously American-type [look] than most actresses of her nationality.
Barbra auctioned the gown in 2004 to support The Streisand Foundation. The description in the auction catalogue read:
Crème crepe silk full length long sleeve empire style gown, sleeves in lighter shade, fully lined in synthetic blend and heavily adorned with tiny faux pearls, rhinestones and decorative silver embroidery with iridescent floral motif. Additional floral beaded areas throughout. Underskirt in panels, center panel with nude soufflé, completely covered in decorative oval design comprised of tiny faux pearls, rhinestones, and iridescent sequins.
“I was careful not to draw attention to her nose,” Beaton said. “She wanted to wear a diamond in her nose, and she came to the set with it on. However, it was vetoed. But I admired her very much for having wanted it. I always admire people daring to be different and individual.”
(Most Beaton quotes on this page are from an interview by George Haddad-Garcia in Streisand Through the Lens, 1982 Delilah Books.)
Photographer Lawrence Schiller, who shot some of the Beaton/Streisand pictures on this page, recalled to V Magazine his memories of watching the two work. “This was a man of elegance and taste,” said Schiller of Beaton. “And his reputation preceded him. So Barbra and [Beaton] got along fabulously. She was like a little puppy dog in Beaton's presence. You know, she would bark every once in a while, and voice her opinion, but she was delighted with what he created. He understood her face, he understood the shape of her body. And Barbra knew what her assets were. Of course the greatest asset was her voice, but now she was moving on in life and she was making the transition to becoming a great actress. Eventually she'd become a great director. So what do you do, you surround yourself with the most talented people in the world. And she surrounded herself with Cecil Beaton.”
Below: Streisand and Beaton on the set.